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The Basics of Blockchain and Its Mission to Secure the Healthcare System

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Your health should not have to wait in line to get checked up. How often do you find yourself going back and forth between your family physician, then to the laboratory for a blood test, and back to your doctor for another check up? Not to mention waiting in the dreary room even though you had your appointment booked days in advance. The amount of hours this process takes eventually leads people to postpone their health when in fact it should have been taken care of immediately.  

Well, that is where the savior concept of blockchain comes in, and it’s crucial for everyone to understand what is up-and-coming. Before any discussion can be held on the application of blockchain, we must have a clear definition of what blockchain is and how this concept applies to your healthcare needs.

https://www.maxpixel.net/Cryptocurrency-Virtual-Blockchain-Currency-Network-3277335

An Easy Understanding of Blockchain for Beginners

In the past several months, recent news articles have been hyping up the legitimacy of applying blockchain methods to other industries, and one of biggest areas is the Healthcare Information Technology (IT) sector. The blockchain is the new foundation of the Internet for over a decade. It derived from the idea of bitcoin, which is a digital currency method that has close to $112 billion in value in the United States. Now, the tech community has expanded the value of economic transactions that are made virtually. Basically, blockchain has become the foundation of the new type of Internet, and it’s a revolution for incorruption and systemic efficiency.

The blockchain is simply another type of cryptocurrency such as the bitcoin. It is like a public ledger system where individuals can record their transactions; in regards to healthcare, these transactions are datasets such as blood tests, surgeries, implants, insurance information, and more. Each transaction is a “block” (hence the title of blockchain) and the blocks are added to other existing blocks until it creates a “chain”. Once each block is verified and approved, it is added to the public log and remains permanent.

If you still don’t know how it works, that’s okay. You actually don’t need to know the specific technicalities of how it works to use it, just like the Internet.

Basically, blockchain has become the foundation of the new type of Internet, and it’s a revolution for incorruption and systemic efficiency.”

Let’s put this concept from the perspective of a NBA basketball game. There are generally two teams, a scorekeeper, and a referee. All players must unanimously agree on the rules beforehand so that no one is cheating or making foul plays. Fans are watching the game and can help maintain the system to keep it in check.

Analogous to blockchain, each block is the score and all the fans and spectators help keep them in check of the rules. To reward those who help keep accurate scores, now fans can get rewarded for keeping the system updated and in check. Whoever is the first to correctly verify and approve the score (or “block”) will get rewarded for contributing to the public log system. Now, even though the fans are not the actual million dollar basketball players, they have the opportunity to gain benefits for their contribution to the overall score.

Same as the cryptocurrency, users who are not even involved in the transactions but also part of the blockchain node also keeps track of transactions as well and record their own blocks. The way logs across the system remain exact copies of each other as new blocks are updated and added is through solving a sort of computational math puzzle.

https://torange.biz/fx/consult-doctor-internet-bitcoin-176916

The Impact of Blockchain on Healthcare

The impact of blockchain could potentially have on the healthcare sector are numerous. It has a high potential to generate easier access and sharing of information for healthcare records. More time will be saved with the accessibility to track and ship for supply chains. Blockchains can also aid in the medical recording by providing an immutable medical record that cannot be changed, aiding in any legal cases in which an untampered medical record is needed. Patient records can be consolidated into a single record; lab results, treatments, disease registries, treatments, etc. can all be compounded together to give a holistic view of patient history so that providers can plan better strategies of healthcare. You will no longer find yourself wasting time back and forth between each lab and all your data will be in one safe place.

List of blockchain benefits:

  • Patient data sharing issues can also be addressed across state borders, where regulations regarding patient privacy and consent vary from state to state.
  • Permission checking will keep patient data secure while granting easy information access for other permitted parties to view. It can also assist in settling payments between insurance providers, hospitals, and patients.
  • Patients can be also incentivized and rewarded from following a care plan, following appointments, and staying healthy through the blockchain system.
  • Patients may also be rewarded for sharing their data with clinical trials and research.

https://www.maxpixel.net/Cryptocurrency-Virtual-Blockchain-Currency-Network-3277335

The Reality of Blockchain

Blockchain definitely has its ups, but those come with its downsides. It is not designed for the use of analytics. Blockchains has issues with transactional performance; for example, bitcoin runs at around 7 transactions per second. To put in an easier context to understand, 7 transactions is almost nothing compared to something like VISA, where around 24,000 transactions are recorded per second! It has problems with large data storage over time and scalability issues. Because the logs have to be recorded, it can lead to large numbers of information that gets repossessed, leading to high inefficiency costs. Greater research is still ongoing to optimize data transfer within blockchain.

If the problems currently facing blockchain can be resolved, then we may be able to enjoy faster and more efficient healthcare in the future. There wouldn’t be a need to wait in line at the doctor’s office while the office workers call various providers and to see if you are qualified to receive care. Doctors would be able to streamline your personal healthcare plans by having access to your past healthcare plans and plan accordingly to how different methods have worked and what new steps could be taken. You can be more involved in your own health by having up-to-date biometrics data, monitoring your own progress, and keeping up a routine of visiting your healthcare provider on a regular basis.

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Digital Health

5 Apps For a Good Night’s Sleep

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Getting quality sleep will play a vital role in how you feel when you are awake throughout the day. Sleep is essential for various aspects of brain function, including cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance. Here are five apps that can help you get a good night’s sleep and track your sleeping schedule. 

Noisli

With Noisli, you can choose from different sounds like thunder, wind, and white noise to create a personal sleep soundtrack to help you fall asleep. You can create a combo of sounds you love and can save in the app for future use. Make sure to keep your phone plugged-in if you keep your phone on overnight to hear your soothing sleep soundtrack.

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Pzizz

The Pzizz app can set a timer for a sleep session, and the app plays soothing dreamscape, including a combo of music, voiceovers, and sound effects. The app also has an option to set up a built-in alarm to wake up. For more advanced features, you’ll need to upgrade to choose different sounds. 


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Slumber 

Slumber offers a mixture of experiences to help you fall asleep, whether it’s meditation focused, bedtime story series, or sounds of a warm jacuzzi. There are background noises to choose from like rain or the ocean and can play for up to 10 hours after the track finishes. Each week there are new sleep-inducing stories and meditations you can choose from. You can listen to them all if you upgrade to the premium version.

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Sleep Cycle

If you want to understand how you slept, the Sleep Cycle app can help you achieve your sleep goals. It tracks your sleep patterns and offers tips to improve your sleep. The app also has an alarm clock that kindly wakes you up when you’re in your lightest sleep phase, waking you up feeling rejuvenated. It’s important to remember that no sleep tracker is 100% accurate. If you are still struggling to sleep you should consult with your primary care physician or dedicated sleep specialist.

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10% Happier

10% Happier offers a wide range of meditations, including ones for sleep that span from three minutes to 45 minutes to ease your mind and fall right to sleep. There are also meditation exercises with a variety of genres and the option to message a coach for additional support.

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Mobile and web applications are making it accessible for people to help support their mental health, finding a healthcare physician, prescription delivery, and much more. 

Sources: 

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important#3.-Good-sleep-can-improve-concentration-and-productivity
  2. https://www.noisli.com/apps
  3. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/g26963663/best-sleep-apps/
  4. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/pzizz-sleep-nap-focus/id915664862
  5. https://slumber.fm/about
  6. https://www.sleepcycle.com/
  7. https://www.tenpercent.com/
  8. https://wordofhealth.com/2020/04/11/5-apps-to-help-support-your-mental-health-during-an-epidemic/
  9. https://wordofhealth.com/2020/03/25/finding-accessible-healthcare-during-a-pandemic/
  10. https://wordofhealth.com/2020/04/18/5-apps-for-prescription-delivery/

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Covid-19

NASA Engineers in Pasadena Build Advanced Ventilator for COVID-19 Patients

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To assist in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have created a high-pressure ventilator prototype. This machine is specifically designed to provide help to COVID-19 patients, as stated by the agency

The system is called Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally, or VITAL, the technology has just passed an important test at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. In the days ahead, NASA is hoping for a fast-track approval of the ventilator so it can be used to help critical coronavirus patients. 

The prototype operates like traditional ventilators, where sedated patients depend on an oxygen tube to help them breathe. The prototype is built to last three to four months, contrary to ventilators in hospitals that were designed to last for years to provide aid for patients with other medical conditions. Engineers of the prototype hope that traditional ventilators can be reserved for patients with severe symptoms from the coronavirus if VITAL is put into place. 

The advanced ventilator was also built to provide more oxygen at higher pressures than other models. According to Dr. Levin, who stated some of his patients needed that specific capability from the devices.

The agency stated engineers at JPL designed the ventilator to be easily built using fewer parts, a majority of them available in current supply chains. The purpose of the ventilator is not meant to compete with other exiting supply chains for ventilators. The VITAL machine is also designed to be adaptable with easy maintenance. It can be used in other settings hosting field settings, such as hotels and convention centers.

In addition to building a ventilator to help COVID-19 patients, NASA is also trying to help provide medical equipment in local communities like Antelope Valley, California.  Another helpful device is the Aerospace Valley Positive Helmet, which can be used to help treat coronavirus patients experiencing minor symptoms instead of using a ventilator. The helmet functions more like a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, a machine more commonly used to treat sleep apnea, according to the agency. The device has already been tested successfully and submitted to the FDA for emergency use authorization, while 500 are currently in production. 

The unit is the product of a collaborative partnership between NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California and Antelope Valley Hospital, the city of Lancaster, Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, Antelope Valley College, and personnel of the Antelope Valley Task Force

Previously the NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio teamed up with Emergency Products and Research, based in Ohio, to develop small portable devices that could disinfect ambulances quickly and cost-effectively known as AMBUStat. Both companies are looking to apply to the same methods during this pandemic as well. 

From 3D printed masks to protect health care professionals to NASA developing ventilators for COVID-19 patients, companies across the nation are stepping up to provide assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sources: 

  1. https://abc7.com/nasa-ventilator-jpl-jet-propulsion-laboratory-ventilators/6133594/
  2. https://wordofhealth.com/2020/03/27/3d-printing-to-help-with-surgical-mask-shortage/

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Covid-19

3D Printing for Organ Transplants?

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The use of 3D printers in the medical and dentistry field is vastly growing from dental implants to prosthetics, and models for surgeons to practice on before making cuts on a patient. Researchers have advanced past printing with plastics and metals to printing with cells that form into living human tissues. Although no one has printed fully functional transplantable human organs, scientists are making improvements. Researchers have been developing pieces of human tissue that can be used to test drugs and creating methods to succeed in the challenges of recreating the body’s complex biology. This article will explore some of the milestones achieved by research groups as well as some of the challenges they have faced on the journey to creating 3D printed organs. 

Cardiac Cells and Ear Transplants

Thus far, scientists have printed mini organoids and microfluidic models of tissues that are also known as organs on chips. The results from both microfluidics and organoids show encouraging insights into operating like the human body. Pharmaceutical companies created the models and are testing drugs before moving into animal studies, after which they will be moving to clinical trials. One group involved in the clinical trials printed cardiac cells on a chip and attached the cells to a bioreactor before testing the cardiac toxicity of a commonly known cancer drug, doxorubicin. The team revealed that the cells’ beating rate reduced significantly after exposure to the medication

Robby Bowles, a bioengineer at the University of Utah, stated that other companies had been involved with 3D printing. The companies studied printing 3D ears, transplanting the ears to children who had congenital disabilities such as underdevelopment of the ears. He acknowledged initial attempts of using 3D printing in the medical field. 

Organovo Studies 

Most recently, researchers have built patches of tissues that emulate fractions of particular organs but haven’t been able to replicate the complexity or cell density of a full organ. Some studies show that even a patch of human tissue could be useful for treatment in patients. However, Organovo, a company that announced its program to design 3D printed liver tissue for human transplants, revealed the results from a previous study. The company presented a successful live implant in a mouse model of genetic liver disease which raised multiple biomarkers that showed improvement in liver function

Researchers have also made progress with one of the biggest challenges in printing 3D organs by creating blood vessels or arranging of blood vessels in an organ, also known as vasculature. After patches were implanted into the mouse’s liver in the Organovo study, blood was supplied to it by the surrounding liver tissue. Still, an entire organ would need to be prepared for blood flow. 

Wyss Institute 

In 2018, Sébastian Uzel, Mark Skylar-Scott, and a team at the Wyss Institute were able to 3D print a tiny, beating heart ventricle complete with blood vessels. A few days later after printing the tissue, Uzel says he came into the lab and found a piece of tissue twitching, that was “very terrifying and exciting.”

The team used embedded printing rather than printing the veins in layers, a method in which instead of building from the bottom of a slide upwards, materials are released directly into a bath or matrix. This approach allows researchers to print “free form in 3D,” according to Skylar-Scott, instead of having to print a vascular tree. The matrix, in this case, was cellular material that made up the heart ventricle. This material, a gelatin-like ink, pushed these cells gently out of the way to create a network of channels. Once the printing was completed, the combination was then heated up. This heat caused the cellular matrix to solidify but caused the gelatin to liquify so it could then be washed out, leaving room for blood to flow through.  

Challenges

Though there are many advancements in 3D printing organs, scientists remain “a ways away” from printing more intricate tissues and organs that can be transplanted into living organisms, but this is the objective for many scientists to achieve soon according to Bowles. As reported by the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are over 112,000 people in the US waiting for an organ transplant, and 20 of those waiting die each day

For a long time, biological engineers have attempted to construct 3D structures that they could seed among stem cells that could later develop and form into organs. One reason this could be challenging according to Bowles “to a large extent don’t allow you to introduce the kind of the organization of gradients and the patterning that is in the tissue,”. Bowles also says “there is no control over where the cells go in that tissue.” In contrast to 3D printing which provides researchers with the ability to precisely direct the organization of the cells that could guide better control over organ development.

Another important aspect is that 3D printed organs would need to be created from cells that the patient’s immune system could identify as its own to prevent immune rejection and the need for patients to be prescribed immunosuppressive medication. 3D printed organs could be developed from patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells. However, the difficult aspect is getting the cells to differentiate into the subtype of mature cells required to form a specific organ. Bowles believes that “the difficulty is kind of coming together and producing complex patternings of cells and biomaterials together to produce different functions of the different tissues and organs.”.

Potential Solutions Moving Forward

To accomplish the emulation of patterns shown in vivo, there are still other methods scientists would have to develop. Scientists can print cells into hydrogels or different environments along with molecular signals and gradients built to influence the cells into arranging themselves into lifelike organs. 3D printing can be used by scientists to create these hydrogels as well. 

In the meantime, 3D printing of tissues is helping to expedite basic and clinical research regarding the human body. Though challenges associated with 3D printing remain, it has great potential to create organs and provide lifesaving organ transplants to patients. The advancement of the 3D printing continues to show promising results that could one day be effective in treating patients with critical conditions.

Sources: 

  1. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/on-the-road-to-3-d-printed-organs-67187?_ga=2.230604892.1926843048.1587572466-1658288134.1587572466
  2. https://organovo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ORG-AASLD2017-805_THX_VJ-FINAL.pdf
  3. https://unos.org/data/transplant-trends/
  4. https://www.bme.utah.edu/department-directory/#/filter-Faculty
  5. https://bioe.uic.edu/profiles/alsberg-eben/
  6. https://www.prellisbio.com/team
  7. https://lewisgroup.seas.harvard.edu/people/mark-skylar-scott
  8. https://lewisgroup.seas.harvard.edu/people/s%C3%A9bastien-g-m-uzel
  9. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/9/eaaw2459

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